As with their view of baptism, Anabaptists differed from both the Roman Catholic tradition and the emerging Protestant churches in their view of community and definition of the church.

What is the Community?

Communion in the Netherlands (24 Kb): ME IV illustrations, p.3
Communion in the Netherlands

The Anabaptists believed that entering the church should be a voluntary decision, implying a conscious decision and a commitment to follow Jesus' example in life. This view led to several conclusions widely held in the Anabaptist movement:

  • The Anabaptists believed that baptism represented this commitment. As a result, they practiced adult baptism rather than the baptizing of children. After all, they reasoned, how can a baby make such a decision?
  • They emphasized that baptism was a public declaration of faith, and the way of entering into the community of believers. They believed that baptism was not only between a person and God, but needed to involve a commitment to other believers as well.
  • Many Anabaptist groups had a kind of "trial period" for people who wanted to join the church, to see whether or not they were following Jesus' moral example. In the language of the day, in order to become a member you first needed to "manifest fruit." After all, a tree that produces apples is an apple tree- the fruit gives it away. The Anabaptists reasoned that, in the same way, a person's actions and attitude should reflect his/her choice to become a Christian. If one's life did not show "fruit," then the person's commitment was lacking.


    "For true faith which is acceptable before God cannot be barren; it must bring forth fruit and manifest its nature... Every good tree bringeth forth good fruit after its kind."

    Menno Simons (1539) in Simons, p. 116

    The Anabaptists often used corporal imagery from the New Testament to emphasize the importance of community. They frequently referred to the church as the "body of Christ" or simply the "body." 

The Role of the Church

"Since the proper interpretation of Scripture requires not some special authority, but rather merely the comparison of the various texts which speak of Christ, any Christian can engage in biblical interpretation."

Andreas Karlstadt (1520) in Snyder, p. 50

The Anabaptists believed that this body had an important role to play, and assigned it several tasks. For one thing, they took Luther's emphasis of the priesthood of all believers even further. Not only did people not need priests to communicate with God, the Anabaptists proposed that all believers had the power and authority to interpret the Bible! The community would decide what different texts meant, and not the centralized leaders or scholars within the movement. This was quite a radical idea, especially when you consider that about 90% of people at that time could not read and write.

Created 1998 by Derek Suderman